When Alan Reich broke his neck while diving at age 32, he neither retreated home nor plunged into advocacy; he simply went back to work. Only years later, when he began traveling in his job with the State Department, did his worldview on disability rights broaden. People with disabilities are "the most vulnerable, the most needy, the most discriminated against, in each society," Reich told us, shortly before his death in November at age 75. "I felt I had a responsibility to do something." And so he founded the National Organization on Disability (NOD), a nonprofit devoted to increasing the rights and participation of the 600 million disabled men, women, and children worldwide. Reich got the United Nations to declare its first International Year of Disabled Persons, created a $50,000 annual award to promote progress in disability rights, aggressively promoted the Americans With Disabilities Act, and forced a redesign of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., to show the wartime president in his wheelchair. Most recently, NOD has been working to establish guidelines for including disabled people in post-9/11 disaster recovery plans. "Alan has provided a platform to help raise the standards for people living with disabilities all over the world," says Dana Reeve, whose late husband, Christopher, served as vice chairman of NOD. For the 54 million Americans living with disabilities, Reich—a former track star—will always be a champion.
*The name of this award was originally the Impact Award. In 2008, the awards were renamed as the Inspire Awards.